Happy Thursday Friartown!
We’ve made it past hump day (a word I’m becoming more familiar with as I work in an office) and sights are now set on the weekend, but why should the next day and a half drag on? We’ve got another interview with another blog on another new team in the Big East!
In the second of our three part series we got in touch with Butler Bulldog blogger David McConnell. He writes for Victoryfirelight.com, and can be found on Twitter with his handle @butlervictory. Butler is best remembered for kicking ass and taking names, specifically in 2010 and 2011 when they surprised everyone with their back to back trips to the NCAA championship game. Their performances earned them conference umps – first from the Horizon League, to the A-10, and then finally to the Big East.
Pictured here is the Butler bulldogs negotiating their admission to the Big East with the Georgetown bulldogs. Yes this is real.
Check out our interview after the jump!
WarriorFriar: Prior to 2010 Butler had only reached the sweet sixteen three times and made the NCAA tournament a total of nine times. Then the Bulldogs became the darlings of everyone in America with the runs they made in 2010 in 2011. Maybe you can frame it better for me than my imagination can – what’s these runs done for your program internally?
Dave McConnell: Wow, that’s a tough question to sum up. Butler fans have to pinch themselves, frankly. I suppose first off, what those runs did was create unbelievable expectations for the program. Every loss and hiccup along the way is largely overreacted to and dissected to a point of being over-the-top. The Butler program was in very good shape, and Brad Stevens has taken things to a completely different stratosphere. Perhaps the most important part of that is the fact that Stevens is the one in charge, and he not only has the uncanny ability to deal with those expectations, but continue to deliver a product that is largely better in W’s and L’s than they probably should be on paper. The Butler program has also reached a new level in terms of the way they travel (charter flights for years now, top-notch accommodations, etc.) and luxuries that most programs its size would die for. The name “Butler” alone carries a lot of weight these days. It’s still kinda hard to believe.
WF: Let’s talk about wunderkind Brad Stevens – he’s a young coach who’s thought of highly that’s entering in a competitive league. What makes coach Stevens unique from the other nine Big East coaches.
DM: I should have read the second question before answering the first. What else is there to say about Stevens? I’m fortunate to get to cover the team and sometimes take for granted his Rock Star status. Then I go to events like the NCAA Tournament and see just how revered he is among people in the business. What makes him unique? He’s happy doing his own thing – it’s truly not about him, at least in his eyes. The other thing about him is that he is absolutely fearless from a coaching standpoint. No matter who the other team is on the other bench, he knows he can find competitive edges that make him feel confident in every game from a preparation standpoint. He never backs down from a challenge. And, yeah, he’s also 36 years old with 166 career wins and a .772 career winning percentage. That’s not normal.
WF: Talk to me about your fanbase’s culture. How do you guys travel, what are some common pregame rituals among fans, and how does the Big East affect all this?
DM: I wouldn’t say Butler’s fan base travels in hoards the way the blue blood programs do. Ticket sales for home games has increased significantly even in the past two years, and the move to the A-10 certainly increased that with better opponents coming to town. That will only increase in the years to come in the Big East, and tickets will be in even higher demand with the renovations at Hinkle actually decreasing capacity. I wouldn’t say there are any specific “pregame rituals,” off the top of my head. Obviously, last season in the A-10, Butler was able to reach a new audience on the East Coast and involve some of its alums more who live in that part of the country. But you have to remember that Butler’s undergraduate enrollment is only about 4,000 students, so the alumni base isn’t exactly huge.
WF: Student sections are awesome! Talk to me about yours.
DM: The Dawg Pound has been going strong for about a dozen years and was actually “officially” started while I was in school. If you want me to be honest, which I’m sure you do, I wouldn’t call it an outstanding student section. There are certain games that drum up students more than others, of course, and sometimes they’re great. Other times it’s kind of ho-hum. It’s kind of ironic because many of the students at Butler now were applying to the school during/after the Final Four runs and applications were up about 1,000 percent, yet it’s a very academically-driven student population who will miss games if classes dictate the need to be in the books. All that being said, the Dawg Pound is a very proud and supportive bunch who understands what it means to be a fan of Butler basketball.
WF: Butler has certainly moved around a bit – what’s the buzz like moving to the Big East compared to when you made your move to the A10 last year?
DM: I would say it’s similar in many respects. A lot of excitement around moving on to bigger and better things. It’s downright unfathomable to think about the leap from the Horizon League to the A-10 to the Big East all in about a calendar year’s time. The move to the A-10 was a very high profile one, considering both competition and overall buzz. The program was basically in a rut with a two-month hibernation every season during conference play, and all the sudden that made a complete 180. Given what I said earlier about the crazy expectations of the program, it will be quite interesting to see how understanding fans will be in the coming 2-3 years as Butler gets acclimated to its new surroundings – both on and off the court. It will take some time to build recruiting to a point where it’s on par with the top end of the Big East.
WF: Rivalries are certainly a good time (lord knows I love em), and apparently Butler has no shortage of them. Dayton and Xavier are listed as rivals on your Wikipedia page, and obviously Xavier will be joining you guys with rumors of Dayton coming in tow soon enough, but how do your rivalries get affected by these changes?
DM: Well, if Wikipedia says that, then I’m sure it’s true. All kidding aside, Butler will basically be able to keep its most important rivalries moving forward. Historically, Xavier is probably the biggest rival and it’s my belief that with both schools now in the Big East, that rivalry will be looked at as one of the most heated around the country in the next 5 years or so. Rivalries are always built within conferences. I think Butler-Marquette could turn into a pretty good one after the two schools played two great games this season. And Butler will continue scheduling several in-state rivals in the non-conference (Evansville, Indiana State, etc.) and the Hoosier Classic (with Indiana, Purdue, and Notre Dame) is a great event in December that will showcase those rivalries. You may have seen what Butler did to Indiana in that one this season.